By Nimfa U. Rueda
LOS ANGELES – As the United States honored its war veterans on Nov. 11, more than a thousand Filipino American protesters marched to the Hollywood district to demand full recognition for 43,000 Filipino World War II veterans.
“We have lobbied Congress for 20 years and filed many cases in US courts and yet our pleadings have fallen on deaf ears,” said 85-year-old veteran John Aspiras, Jr., one of thousands of veterans whose claims for benefits had been denied. “We are here to take our case to the (American) people.”
Aspiras and other members of the Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV) led the march and held a rally in front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a historic landmark on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some protesters held signs reading “Full Equity Now” and “Don’t Say No to my Lolo.”
More than 250,000 Filipinos fought for the United States during the war and were promised equal treatment as American veterans after the war. But in 1946, the US Congress enacted the Rescission Act that took away full recognition of the Filipinos and stripped them of their benefits.
In 2009, Congress approved a stimulus package that included one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.
However, thousands of veterans had their claims denied, mainly because US authorities did not accept records from the Philippines which were the veterans’ sole means to prove their service. Implementing guidelines require certification from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) that the names of veteran-claimants appear in both the Roster of Troops and the Discharge List prepared by the US Army at the end of the war.
Some aging veterans also said it was unrealistic to file their claims in time for the Feb. 16, 2010, deadline.
“This is a blot on America’s conscience, when those who fought and won its wars cannot be compensated and are continually denied their dignity and honor,” said JFAV National Coordinator Arturo Garcia, who described the march as the biggest protest action staged by JFAV in Los Angeles.
Metro, a major operator of bus and rail service in LA County, issued an alert advising that several bus lines could be detoured because of the protest action
“In the next three years, the last veterans of the WWII will soon perish without seeing the light of recognition,” said 96-year-old Felino Punsalan, in a letter sent by JFAV to President Obama asking him to issue an executive order to give full recognition to the Filipino veterans. “As veterans, we do not beg for entitlement. We simply ask (for) the recognition that we earned with our sacrifice.”
Last month, Filipino veterans held a similar rally in front of the federal courthouse in San Francisco as JFAV legal counsel Arnedo Valera filed a lawsuit claiming that the federal government discriminated against the Filipino veterans by denying them the full benefits given to US veterans.
The suit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs claims lump-sum payments of either $9,000 or $15,000 given to the Filipino soldiers are far below the benefits that other veterans receive, including pensions and health care.
At a hearing on Nov. 5, Valera asked whether it was “constitutional for the government to establish the NPRC, or the Missouri List, as the only way to prove military service.” He said some veterans who have been denied benefits have received medals and citations for their World War II service.
Also on Nov. 11, the Philippine embassy issued a statement expressing hope that the US government – through the interagency working group that the Obama administration created recently to review the applications of disqualified veterans – would soon address the plight of the Filipino veterans
“With the elections over, we are hoping that the US government would now be able to move the process forward,” Ambassador Jose Cuisia, Jr. said.